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Pakistan IT Human Resource Saga of a Neglected Opportunity

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30,000 IT Graduates enter the IT Industry that has just an appetite for adjusting 2,000-3,000 graduates/year in different positions of the industry.

Sitting in my small office and deeply involved in sad thoughts, I could not take my mind off the old man who left an hour back. The grey bearded Tajbar Khan, who had worked all his life to break the shackles of poverty. He led a very simple life through small means of income putting in untiring efforts towards educating his children. Unlike most people of our villages who would put their children to help them with farming, he was the odd one to make a good living off his own and above all supporting his children for their education. His eldest and the only son was sent to Peshawar, the nearest town for higher studies whereas his two younger sisters could only study till high school at the village to be married soon. Tajbar used to dream and would not proudly talk about it that his days are going to change when his son will become a graduate. He is going to become a computer engineer and will be a Baboo soon, one couldn’t help notice the shine in his eyes and smile on the face. Sadly, after the six months of his son’s graduation he could neither find any job nor even an internship. All the companies said that they don’t have job and even if they had they did not select him because he was a fresh graduate, “where do I get him a job and where should I get him the experience if they don’t keep him”; the old man sobbingly exclaims. One couldn’t help notice the tears that Tajbar held back and could roll down anytime and voice that was shaking.

While, my heart was sad to hear him but more so seeing the state of unemployment in the country I couldn’t help thinking of how many other countless Tajbar Khan’s exist in all areas of the country especially in the rural areas? This situation forced me to address this issue or atleast see the magnitude of it for the IT Sector by going deeply into why’s and how’s of each and every aspect and reach to some conclusion that could avoid hopelessness and despair.

The first important aspect was to discover the magnitude of problem which is affecting the lives of many individual quiet seriously.

The Challenge:

In the higher education channel of Pakistan, currently we have about 95,000 IT students at any given time. Nearly one third of these students complete their studies every year to enter the industry i.e. we are talking about 30,000 ICT graduates per year and the details in terms of region are given in the figure.

Pakistan-IT-Human-Resource-Saga-of-a-Neglected-Opportunity
Ironically, when these 30,000 individuals enter the professional world, they come to discover that the whole country has just an appetite of being adjusting 2,000-3,000 graduates per year in different positions of the industry. Although it is increasing but that increase is just an incremental value rather than a logarithmic increase in the country’s ICT infrastructure. The situation appears to remain the same way in the years to come and may even get more complex until and unless the Government and more importantly the Industry and Academia do not take drastic steps to solve this issue.

While, lack of jobs is one, a bigger challenge that exists is the rural-urban and gender divide. The entire Pakistan or over 95% of the entire ICT industry is centered on three cities that are Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad.

Ironically, we have more than 85% of our entire population besides these metro cities, whereas, the other cities have anywhere from very little and almost non-existent IT industry which can provide any job or skill enhancement opportunities. Therefore, as more and more people graduate they tend to remain in these bigger cities and this concentration of the IT sector creates multiple problems for the IT ECO-System to grow.

A closer look of the IT HR reveals that Sindh produces around 7,000 ICT graduates of which 2000 are from rural areas and 1000 are women. In the province of Punjab which has 57% of the total population of Pakistan, the situation is even worse where 14,000 graduates enter the market every year of which 11,500 are from Lahore and
Rawalpindi alone. The rest 2,500 are from lesser metro cities such as Multan, Faisalabad, Gujranwala etc. the women strength is a bit better that has over 30% population amongst the graduates. Due to the nonexistence of the ICT industry, even metro cities like Multan are to be considered as rural areas as most of the professionals of such districts usually do not find a job in their home cities. In KPK, a little less than 4000 graduate that are 50% in Peshawar, however, the gender situation for graduating students are alarmingly very lopsided with less than 10% of them women graduates. Islamabad, the Federal Capital of Pakistan with a small population of over 2 million produces more IT graduates than two provinces of Pakistan put together i.e. KPK & Baluchistan. As one would expect the Urban-Rural and Gender situation for IT graduates is worst for Baluchistan and AJK/NA for reasons known to almost everyone.

While, lack of jobs is one, a bigger challenge that exists is the rural-urban and gender divide. 95% of the entire ICT industry is centered around 3 cities of Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad that makes the situation more complicated

All the facts mentioned above makes one to shiver thinking of the possbility about these youngsters waiting in the

Pakistan-IT-Human-Resource-Saga-of-a-Neglected-Opportunity
pipeline to be accommodated in the industry-not to mention those who are already out there looking for opportunities. To talk of few halfhearted attempts the Government’s Software Export Board (PSEB) took an initiative of a countrywide internship program for all such graduates but it did not prove to be that much effective as one would expect from a government run organization. Apart from that, the Punjab Information Technology Board (PITB) also established its incubation center at Arfa Karim Software Technology Park, Lahore

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with the name of “Plan 9” to be run by professionals from the industry but it has yet to scale-up its program to address a challenge of such a large magnitude. The yearly target to incubate 20-25 ideas that could only produce around 100 IT jobs is far from sufficient. Although every drop matters and it is already too late too little but the government really needs to scale out on its IT initiatives both at the federal and provincial levels. There is dire need to have a Plan-9 and PSEB like internship in at least all sub-metro cities- if it can’t reach the suburban/rural areas.

Realizing this, some private sector professionals have also started their own initiatives, one being an incubation program by the name of PurePush by Central Asian Cellular Forum- that provides trainings, mentoring and commercialization of applications by fresh IT graduates for the mobile industry. The sponsors of the program believe that over 6 Billion Mobiles that is still growing exponentially presents an open and huge opportunity that will outclass all platforms and markets. The incubation program started at IQRA University a couple of years back with whatever little resources put in by these professional, has now being scaled out to Abasyn University and IAC Group.

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The program funded from internal sources is finding some success after initial hiccups. In addition to preparing around a little over two hundred graduates for the industry, some of the applications made commercial have not only made it to the top ten on the Android store but it also had profound effect on the lives of the people such as a blood pressure measuring app.

Few halfhearted and ill planned attempts by the Government and other stakeholders to tackle such humongous challenges make one to shiver of the impending danger and potential losses

They program is now being scaled up further to go into sub metro towns with the help of the industry and other  interested academia partners. But this is again just another drop and far from sufficient. There is serious need to
have hundreds of these programs both from the Government and the Industry. The situation at times seems to be
hopeless and getting out of hand, if not already, as such a huge amount of talent is being wasted. Parents kill their appetite to save some money for their children’s education, the children burn the midnight oil in order to make their parents’ dreams come true but sadly all this does not realize into dream fulfilled. Such a situation serves as a wake-up call for everyone and it is necessary that both the government and the industry including the academia should now start realizing the true potential of all the unemployed graduates in general and IT Graduates  in particular and start taking some appropriate steps at grass root level in order to make this country a divine land of opportunities.

Opportunities Unlimited: The Silver lining

Somehow, I always feel that brain drain phenomenon cannot happen in Pakistan. Almost, everyone that I knew in my professional career flew out of country to look for greener pastures in the last two decades but then there were more
talented and amazing people to replace them. The story of IT is no different- we have an unlimited pool of IT human
resource that is probably the most important and costly raw material to the growing global IT industry in the world.

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Some individuals and companies in Pakistan have already started to take charge by freelancing and it was a relief to find that Pakistan today is at an impressive number four at E-lance just behind US, India and Ukraine only when it
came to providing freelancers in the world.

Despite all odds, the fact that Pakistan stood at an impressive number 4 and is increasing by 70% in providing freelancers just behind US, India and Ukraine proves the existing and rising entrepreneurial skills of the Pakistani IT
graduates in the world

E-lance is a social website which earns USD 285 billion from across the globe to utilize their skills and make a sound
living while working at their homes as freelancers. According to the global online report published by them, it adds up 1.1 million freelancers on yearly basis. Moreover, they posted 1.2 million jobs in the industry and 441K new businesses joining them in a year. They are growing by the day. This is all made possible by the fact that the world’s most used app stores and other such entities have made excellent dashboards and processes that only take less than 5 minutes to enter into an agreement and you can start business with them. In Pakistan, if you would like to do a business of mobile app with the mobile operators it would take anywhere from 6 to 12 months and that too if you are “Friend & Family”. Anyhow, it is amazing that at Elance, Pakistan stands at a proud 4th position amongst all the countries. This simply reflects the height of passion and enthusiasm of our able IT youth that given an opportunity they can do wonders, even if they do not succeed in making waves of success in the local industry. They still utilize their potential by working as freelancers from the comfort of their homes- a fruit for thought for the policy makers and the industry the potential it holds for the women employment and empowerment in Pakistan.

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Pakistan has shown 60-70% growth in the area of freelancing. This can also bridge the urban-rural divide issue, if we can promote this in the country. We need to encourage by providing funding opportunities, technical assistance, automating process, ensure transparency in government initiatives and create awareness amongst government,
industry and academia so that most of our graduates get accommodated and earn handsome amount of money (not to mentioned increasing the much needed inward foreign exchange remittance for the country) in order to make a good living.

Moving Forward:

While, we discussed the challenges and the opportunities, it would be quite unwise not to provide some fruit for thought on how to move forward or put forward some recommendation although not really very conclusive but will surely help in understanding what needs to be done. A couple of areas could be:

(1) Market Oriented Approach:

The first action is for the academia as there is a huge gap between the industry requirement and what the academia produces. It takes almost 6 to 12 months for a fresh IT graduate to tune themselves and prepare for being absorbed into the industry.

Through collaborative efforts of Government, Academia and the Industry we can cash upon the humongous opportunities that the Global IT industry present and can also improve the image of Pakistan

This not only requires adequate provisioning of infrastructure facilities and relevant curriculum, which the institute provides but a lot of responsibility rests on the faculty to provide the students’ the knowledge of market oriented
technologies, processes and in building entrepreneurial ideas and skills. They also need to establish relationship with the industry in the shape of business advisory group so that the gap between the two can be reduced.

(2) Scaling Up:

Since, the magnitude of the human resource graduating is in excess of 30K/year (not to mention the ones already graduated), showcasing few initiatives are not going to work. We should now go beyond the PR exercises; there is a need to scale up the initiatives in all directions-whether it is educating, training, incubation, reaching out to rural areas and women, freelancing or going for deep down development. Every bit of effort will need to be roped in and will have to be counted for such mass scale rehabilitation of the sector.

(3) Government & Industry Initiatives:

In addition to scaling up the Government needs to make business environment friendly for the IT sector. In addition to tax incentives it needs to speak with application stores like Google etc., to allow paid accounts, make mandatory for the local mobile operators to establish platforms and dash board so that local developers can provide/sell their
applications and services.

This shall allow opening up of new avenues for further development and at the same time help the mobile operators raise their ARPU levels and value proposition. The need of the hour is to give special attention towards this issue
for which the government, industry, academia and more importantly the public needs to play its due role. Through collaborative efforts we can cash upon the humongous opportunities that the Global IT industry presents and that could very well improve the image of Pakistan as well, reaching new heights in tomorrow’s digital era.